Mount Pleasant, Mich. — New coach, same result.
In her first year as head coach of Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team, Heather Oesterle has led her squad to its fourth consecutive outright Mid-American Conference regular season title as well as its fifth straight MAC West Division championship. The Chippewas (22-4, 15-0) clinched the title with a 76-60 victory over rival Western Michigan (15-11, 8-7) Wednesday night in McGuirk Arena.
Former head coach Sue Guevara retired after 12 seasons at the helm, the last three of which ended in regular season conference titles. She handed the program over to Oesterle, her associate head coach, who has maintained the standard of excellence in her first season.
“This is a dream,” Oesterle said after the game. “I have my dream job here and to do something like this with the people we get to do it with, it’s pretty incredible.”
After the game, Oesterle visited with Guevara, who served as her head coach during her playing days at Michigan and her coaching mentor for the previous nine seasons.
“I have this picture in my office of her and me at the press conference and I look at it on my way out to practice and I just (think) ‘I gotta make her proud,' ” Oesterle said. “That’s been the goal all year, just to make her proud, because she did so much for me over the years and has really prepared me for this opportunity.”
The win is the Chippewas’ 15th in a row and 22nd in their last 23 games. They’ve won all but one game, a 64-58 loss to UCF on Dec. 30, since starting the season 0-3.
Central Michigan got 10 first-quarter points from Molly Davis and led for the majority of the first half, however the Broncos stayed close and closed the first half on an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game heading into the locker room.
After Jordan Walker scored to extend Western’s lead to four early in the third quarter, Micaela Kelly scored five straight points to put Central Michigan on top. The teams traded leads before senior MacKenna Kelly hit her first 3-pointer since the loss to UCF to kick-start a 12-2 run that would give the Chippewas the lead for good.
Leighah Amori-Wool and Breanna Mobley scored back-to-back buckets to cut the Chippewa lead to nine, however Davis and Micaela Kelly hit 3-pointers to put the game out of reach.
Micaela Kelly finished with 24 points and eight assists. Davis, a freshman who has established herself among the conference’s best, added 20 points and reigning MAC West Player of the Week Kyra Bussell scored 12. Western Michigan was led by Mobley’s 19 points and six rebounds.
"I'm like a big sister," Kelly said of her relationship with Davis. "Why not go out there and just smile. She's giving me assists, I'm giving her assists."
Central Michigan outrebounded Western 35-30 and shot 47% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Broncos missed all but two of their 3-point tries. The Chippewas outscored the Broncos 41-23 after halftime.
Though they’ve locked up the regular season title, the Chippewas have three games remaining on the schedule.
“The message to our team is that we’re not done yet,” Oesterle said. “We still have a lot more to do. When we set the goals at the beginning of the year, this was the first one.”
Next up for Central Michigan is a showdown at 1 p.m. Saturday in Muncie, Indiana, where the Chippewas will take on the Ball State Cardinals.
More state women
Michigan State 72, (at) Illinois 58: Shay Colley scored 14 and Nia Clouden and Moira Jojner each scored 11 for the Spartans (15-13, 8-9 Big Ten). Ali Andrews scored 16 for Illinois (11-17, 2-15).
(At) Northern Illinois 65, Eastern Michigan 59: Myia Starks scored 15 and Gabby Nikitinaite 11 for Northern Illinois (9-17, 5-10 MAC). Areanna Combs scored 29 and Corrione Caldwell 10 for Eastern (13-13, 8-7).
No. 9 Maryland 74, (at) Minnesota 73: Darryl Morsell drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left for Maryland, capping a comeback from a 16-point halftime deficit.
Jalen Smith had 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a soaring rebound and slam with 14.5 seconds remaining that pulled the Terrapins within 73-71. Gabe Kalscheur short-armed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 12 seconds to go for the Gophers, who missed three foul shots in the final 39 seconds. Then the Terrapins hustled the ball up to find Morsell, who had 13 points and nine rebounds, for the winner from NBA range.
Anthony Cowan Jr. had 10 points, nine assists and six rebounds for Maryland (23-5, 13-4), which maintained a two-game lead for first place in the Big Ten with three games to go.
Daniel Oturu had 28 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota (13-14, 7-10), which saw its NCAA Tournament hope all but disappear with a third straight excruciating home defeat.
(At) Penn State 65, Rutgers 64: Myles Dread hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to lift Penn State over Rutgers after the Nittany Lions blew a 21-point lead.
Trailing 40-19 late in the first half, the Scarlet Knights tied the game at 62 with 1:32 left in the game on Geo Baker’s layup. His jumper gave Rutgers a two-point lead with 42 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Dread hit his 3-pointer and Akwasi Yeboah’s shot at before the buzzer was off.
Izaiah Brockington scored 16 points and Lamar Stevens added nine for the Nittany Lions (21-7, 11-6 Big Ten).
Jacob Young scored 13 points for the Scarlet Knights (18-11, 9-9), who lost their third straight.
(At) No. 12 Villanova 71, St. John's 60: Saddiq Bey scored 23 points and Justin Moore added 21 to lead Villanova past St. John’s.
The Wildcats (22-6, 11-4 Big East) had trouble shaking St. John’s until late on a night the program honored former star Kyle Lowry. Lowry, a five-time All-Star guard for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, played two seasons for the Wildcats and was one of the early pieces that helped build coach Jay Wright’s program into a national power.
Lowry was flanked by former teammates and called the jersey recognition honor a “once in a lifetime” experience that he was able to share with his wife and two young sons. His sons, Karter and Kameron, played with the microphones at a halftime press conference.
Lowry played from 2004-2006 when the Wildcats made their first two NCAA Tournament trips of Wright’s young tenure.
Christian Booher is a freelance writer. Detroit News staff and Associated Press contributed.